Lies leave victims shattered
SO they’ve done it again. Official Ireland and the Catholic Church have, yet again, ducked and dived and tried their level best to avoid admitting responsibility for the untold damage they have done to their people.
They denied, they obfuscated, they covered up and then eventually, when they had no other option, they finally came clean and blamed the times they were in. It’s all so dismally familiar and so we know this sorry dance all too well. This time the cover-up involved whoknows-how-many children whose family of origin were wiped clean from their birth certificates.
The purpose of this grim initiative was to prevent ‘illegitimate’ babies from falling into the hands of the Protestants. Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, who, with Éamon de Valera’s acquiescence, was pretty much shaping the country at the time, was so appalled at the very idea of the Protestant mother and baby homes inadvertently winning over some Irish Catholics that he decreed that the Catholics had better up their game.
And so, as if they were commodities in a hostile takeover, the Catholic nuns falsified documents and exported the children to Catholic homes in America.
So it was that vulnerable babies, shipped thousands of miles away, were armed with nothing but a false birth certificate and the beginning of a false sense of identity.
It all reads like corporate warfare or political hostilities rather than two religions, from the same ethos, the same God, the same Bible, jealously guarding their numbers. The thing is, though, the Protestants just don’t seem to have used the dirty tricks the Catholic Church engaged in.
Perhaps the Catholics were being Jesuitical about it all, and they believed the end justified the means? Presumably these nuns thought there was no real harm done by all these lies and subterfuge; they most probably thought ‘sure, God is good and at least we have them playing for the right team’.
There are men and women in their 50s and 60s today who will very soon have their entire identities shattered by this news. These people are going about their day-to-day lives, entirely oblivious to the bombshell hurtling towards them right at this moment.
The profound damage this knowledge will do to both the adopted people and to their families will take some time to emerge. For some people, it will be like an earthquake in their psyche, for others it will not be such a big deal. It depends on the person, on the family and on the circumstances of their lives.
It can be enormously traumatic for a person in late middle age, with an already well-formed identity, to suddenly find out that they were adopted. Every memory of their childhood and every loving recollection of their parents and siblings can suddenly feel skewed or alienating. A deep sense of betrayal and abandonment can follow and the adopted person can feel disconnected from their adopted family, as if they were on the outside and looking at the part they
played in a fictitious narrative. The people involved can also suddenly feel a heightened sense of impotent rage and, in some cases, estrangement or family rifts can develop.
The revelation of a big family secret can make a person feel like the Earth has tilted on its axis. They may have dark thoughts towards their parents and other family members as they try to figure out who knew what and when. It can feel humiliating when an individual realises that everyone else knew and that they were the last to know. On the other hand, if no one but the parents knew, it can feel as if an emotional chasm has suddenly opened between the child and the parents.
The sense of loss a person can experience on hearing this news is sometimes life-changing. Our families give us a sense of identity, a solid ground from which we can lift off. Without a strong sense of where we have come from, it can be difficult to find a purpose or the ability to project into the future. This sense of self isn’t a luxury, but an emotional need that every one of us requires. Just like love and belonging, when we have it we can blithely assume that we would be fine without it, but when it is taken from us we can suddenly feel empty, isolated and lost.
It’s not only the psychological recalibration that this new knowledge generates but the new knowledge of their DNA and heritage may have certain ramifications for people. Not only that, but it’s impossible to quantify how many lives could have been saved or improved with the lost medical knowledge about genetic conditions, bloodrelated illnesses and many other health implications.
The problem with lies is that they create more lies. When the families were given babies with falsified birth certificates that stated the adoptive parents were the real parents, these families were then led to create further lies about pregnancies and blood connections. This in turn would have created a gap, a kind of vacant space where the opportunity for deep connection and bonding was lost. The saddest aspect of this story is that the false narrative that was imposed on these babies and their adoptive families created a distance and an emotional gap that might never truly be bridged.
These people are going about their day-to-day lives, entirely oblivious to the bombshell hurtling towards them right at this moment